Kalpana Kotagal is a Partner at Cohen Milstein, a member of the firm’s Civil Rights & Employment practice group, and Chair of the firm’s Hiring and Diversity Committee. Ms. Kotagal plays an active role in the investigation and development of new matters for the Civil Rights & Employment practice group.
Ms. Kotagal is co-author of the "Inclusion Rider," referenced by Oscar-winning actress Frances McDormand in her 2018 Best Actress acceptance speech, together with Dr. Stacy Smith of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and Fanshen Cox of Pearl Street Films. Ms. Kotagal is also currently serving as an advisor to noted filmmakers on a film addressing issues of gender pay disparities.
Currently, Ms. Kotagal represents female sales employees in a Title VII and Equal Pay Act case against one of the nation's largest jewelry chains in Jock, et al. v Sterling Jewelers Inc. Her clients have alleged a pattern of sex discrimination in compensation and promotions. Ms. Kotagal also represents female sales employees in a putative class action against AT&T Mobility, alleging violations of the Title VII, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Family Medical Leave Act in Allen v. AT&T Mobility Services LLC, as well as individuals with mobility disabilities seeking to improve accessibility of fuel pumps. Pro bono, Ms. Kotagal represents the Center for Reproductive Rights in a Freedom of Information Act enforcement litigation against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for staffing and budgetary information on HHS’s Office for Civil Rights’ Conscience and Religious Freedom Division, created under the Trump administration, and information related to the Office for Civil Rights’ Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act enforcement activities.
Among other notable cases, Ms. Kotagal played an instrumental role in representing Wal-Mart employees in the landmark Supreme Court case, Dukes v. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which addressed the standards for class certification in employment discrimination matters.
Ms. Kotagal’s past successes include:
- Gender-Affirming Surgery Coverage by Aetna: With the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, Ms. Kotagal led a pivotal access-to-healthcare class action on behalf of four transgender women. On January 26, 2021, Aetna, one of the largest health insurance companies in the United States, agreed to expand its coverage to include gender-affirming surgery, including, in this matter, breast augmentation. As a part of the pre-litigation agreement, TLDEF and Ms. Kotagal worked with Aetna to update its clinical policy bulletin to cover such medically necessary surgery for transfeminine members.
- Sutton v. McCoy (N.D. Ga.): Cohen Milstein and the ACLU successfully represented a plaintiff in a race-based Fair Housing Act discrimination lawsuit, where the plaintiff claimed she was unjustly evicted for inviting an African-American family to her home. On February 13, 2020, in exchange for dismissing the case, the landlords admitted to their discriminatory actions and making racist statements in violation of the Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act, apologized for the harm they caused, and paid restitution.
- Hill, et. al v. Donohue, United States Postal Service (E.D.N.Y.): Ms. Kotagal represented a class of disabled veteran job applicants, who alleged the U.S. Postal Service illegally required pre-offer medical inquiries during their application process. The case, which settled for $9.58 million, resulted in USPS’s agreeing to implement changes in its practices to prevent similar violations in the future.
- Aaron v. Pilgrim’s Pride Corp. (W.D. Ark.): Ms. Kotagal represented 8,000 workers in 11 states in a wage and hour lawsuit, in which the workers sought redress for unpaid overtime. The $10 million settlement allowed class members to recover about 85% of the back pay owed them.
- Nurse Wages Matters: Cohen Milstein represented nurses in several antitrust cases, contending that hospitals conspired to suppress and fix wages of nurses.
For her work on the Inclusion Rider and her other efforts in championing equity, diversity, and inclusion through her practice of law, Ms. Kotagal has received numerous industry recognitions, including being listed in the Lawdragon 500 Leading Lawyers in America (2019, 2020), named Law360’s “Employment – MVP” (2018), recognizing the top five most influential employment lawyers in the United States, named one of The National Law Journal’s “Elite Women of the Plaintiffs Bar”(2018), and receiving Chambers Women in Law: USA 2018, “Outstanding Contribution to the Community in Advancing Diversity” Award, as well as “The Work & Family Legal Center’s Distinguished Public Service Award” from A Better Balance. In 2017, Ms. Kotagal was also recognized by Law360 as a “Rising Star,” an annual list recognizing lawyers under the age of 40 whose professional accomplishments transcend their age.
A noted public speaker, Ms. Kotagal is often called on to address issues of employment and civil rights law, class actions, mandatory arbitration, diversity in the workplace to a wide range of audiences, including TEDxLinz, the Democratic Attorneys General Association, the American Constitution Society, the National Employment Lawyers Association, the Impact Fund, among many others. She also speaks regularly to law students and new lawyers. Ms. Kotagal has twice had the honor of being invited to deliver the commencement addresses to graduating law school classes, including University of Pennsylvania Law School in 2019 and the University of California, Irvine School of Law in 2018. In 2018, Harvard Law School named Ms. Kotagal as a Wasserstein Public Interest Fellow.
Ms. Kotagal is a prolific writer. Her recent Op-Eds include: “Inclusion Rider Work Must Continue in Hollywood and Beyond,” Law360, February 21, 2019; “Push for Diversity in Hollywood Paves Path for Rest of America,” The Hill, March 28, 2018; “The ‘Inclusion Rider’ Should Be a Hollywood Standard,” The Washington Post, March 9, 2018; and “The Need for Female Equality and Diversity in Hollywood,” Variety, February 23, 2017 (Co-Authored with Cohen Milstein’s Anita Hill. Recent articles include: “Your Thoughts: Can Trump Ban Transgender from the US Military?” Lawyer Monthly Opinion Piece, August 08, 2017.
Ms. Kotagal is a member of the Advisory Board of the Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and sits on the Board of Directors of A Better Balance. She is also a member of American Constitution Society Task Force on #MeToo in the Legal Profession and co-chairs the Alumni Advisory Board for Equity and Inclusion at Penn Law. She has also served as a member of the Center for Worklife Law’s Working Group on Pregnancy Accommodation and the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA).
Ms. Kotagal brings to her litigation practice her experience as an organizer, having previously served as field organizer with Green Corps, a field director with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group, and as an advisor to a Congressional candidate. Ms. Kotagal also served as an honorary chair of the National Finance Committee of Young Lawyers for Obama in 2008. She is the immediate past chair of the governance committee of the Board of Directors of CISV USA, an international youth-empowerment and peace education organization with more than 20 chapters in the United States.
Prior to joining Cohen Milstein, she served as a law clerk to the Honorable Betty Binns Fletcher of United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.
Ms. Kotagal attended Stanford University, where she was a Morris K. Udall Scholar and graduated with honors. She earned her J.D., cum laude, from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a James Wilson Fellow. Ms. Kotagal was Articles Editor of the University of Pennsylvania Law Review.
- Co-Chair, Alumni Advisory Board on Inclusion and Engagement, University of Pennsylvania Law School
- Member, Board of Directors, Public Justice
- Member, Board of Directors, A Better Balance
- Member, Board of Advisors, People’s Parity Project
- Member, Board of Advisors, USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism' Annenberg Inclusion Initiative
- Member, Task Force on #MeToo in the Legal Profession, American Constitution Society
- Member, Dean’s Council, Penn Law Women at the University of Pennsylvania
- Immediate Past Co-Chair, Labor & Employment Section, Standing Committee on Class Actions, District of Columbia Bar
- Immediate Past-Chair, Board Governance Committee for the Board of Directors, Children's International Summer Villages, USA
- Member, National Employment Lawyers Association
- Member, Center for WorkLife Law Working Group on Pregnancy Accommodation
- Honorary Chair, Young Lawyers for Obama, National Finance Committee (2008)
- Advisor, Darcy Burner for Congress, Washington’s 8th District (2006)